Today’s schools are increasingly multicultural and multilingual with students from diverse social and economic backgrounds.
In this regard, educators are required to serve students with various motivation for engaging in learning, behaving positively, and performing academically.
Social-emotional learning is important because it provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and enhances students’ ability to succeed in school, professionally, and life after school in general.
Emmanuella Mahoro, a psychologist and youth mentor in Kigali, believes that promoting social and emotional development for all students in classrooms simply involves teaching and modelling social and emotional skills.
She points out that when this is done, it helps provide opportunities for students to practice and hone such skills.
When learners are equipped with social and emotional skills, Mahoro says it gives them an opportunity to apply the skills in various situations, especially outside the school environment.
She notes that when students are equipped with social and emotional skills, they acquire and effectively apply the knowledge and attitude necessary to understand and manage emotions.
“It’s through such skills that students manage to set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions on their own,” she adds.
Research shows that social and emotional skills not only improve achievement academically, but also increase prosocial behaviours (such as courtesy and empathy). It also improves students’ attitude towards school, and reduces depression and stress.
Why is it important?
The first importance of social and emotional learning, Mathias Nkeeto, a teacher at Green Hills Academy, says, is it helps students develop self-awareness.
Self-awareness, he says, involves understanding students’ own emotions, personal goals, and values.
This, he says, includes accurately assessing your students’ strengths and limitations, having positive mind-sets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism.
“High levels of self-awareness require the ability to recognise how thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected among students,” he adds.
Nkeeto adds that another importance of social and emotional learning is that it supports self-management among students.
He explains that students require skills and attitudes that facilitate the ability to regulate their own emotions and behaviours.
This, he says, includes the ability to delay gratification, manage stress, control impulses, and persevere through challenges in order to achieve personal and educational goals.
On the other hand, Mahoro says social and emotional learning among students also improves social awareness.
She notes that when it comes to social awareness, it involves the ability to understand, empathise, and feel compassion for those with different backgrounds or cultures.
According to her, it also involves understanding social norms for behaviour and recognising family, school, and community resources, among others.
Such skills, Diana Nawatti, the head teacher at Mother Mary Complex School in Kigali, says, also help learners when it comes to relationships in general.
She says it helps students establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships.
Most importantly, she says, students are able to act in accordance with social norms.
Nawatti goes on to add that when educators focus on such skills, in the long run, students are able to communicate clearly with everyone, listen actively, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek help whenever it is needed.
Social and emotional skills also help learners when it comes to making or coming up with responsible decisions.
Nawatti further says that responsible decision making involves learning how to make constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across diverse settings.
She adds that it requires the ability to consider ethical standards, safety concerns, accurate behavioural norms, the health and well-being of self and others, and to make a realistic evaluation of various consequences. And that school is one of the primary places where students learn social and emotional skills.
Meanwhile, John Nzayisenga, director at Kigali Harvest School, says students are more successful in school and in life outside the classroom when they know and have the ability to manage themselves.
He says it also helps learners understand their perspectives and relate effectively with them.
Besides, he says, students are able to make sound choices about personal and social decisions, adding that they can as well develop positive attitudes towards themselves, others, and tasks including enhanced self-efficacy and confidence among others.
Aside from these, Nzayisenga notes that approach helps learners be persistent, with a commitment to school and a sense of purpose.
“It’s easy for students to develop positive social behaviours and relationships with peers and adults,” he says.
Nzayisenga says that it also reduces issues with conduct and risky behaviour, especially with adolescents.
Mahoro says it helps decrease emotional distress, and also improves students’ grades and scores, depending on how much help they get from their instructors.
In the long run, greater social and emotional competence to students can increase the likelihood of school graduation, readiness for further studies, career success, positive family and work relationships, reduced criminal behaviour, and engaged citizenship.
Nawatti says teachers can also naturally foster such skills in students through their interpersonal and student-centred instructional interactions.